A new study from Harvard University has shown that key parts of the hippocampus are generally smaller in those people who report childhood maltreatment.
There is now a growing body of research that suggests being sexually or emotionally abused at a younger age affects the development of the memory and emotive functions of the brain.
Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, study author Martin Teicher said: "The exquisite vulnerability of the hippocampus to the ravages of stress is one of the key translational neuroscience discoveries of the 20th century."
The study, of nearly 200 people, found the volume of three key parts of the hippocampus were reduced by up to 6.5 per cent in those who reported exposure to several "adverse childhood experiences".
Andrea Danese, a clinical lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry at King's College London, said that while this study does increase help to develop greater understanding of the relationship between childhood maltreatment and cognitive development, the results may be affected by "recall bias".
"The findings are based on the perceptions and memories that participants have of their childhood rather than on objective events," she added.
"Although the authors report that childhood maltreatment is associated with smaller hippocampus regions, it is possible that these abnormalities pre-dated and possibly facilitated maltreatment exposure. Longitudinal and twin studies will help to clarify this issue."
Read the study in full atwww.pnas.org/content/early/2012/02/07/1115396109
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Posted 16/02/2012 by firstname.lastname@example.org